Restaurants With The Greatest Seafood Variety
As strong as Louisiana is in its production of fresh, too-quality seafood, a seafood lover bent on sampling as many different kinds of finfish and shellfish as he can might be disappointed by most restaurants. Most restaurants carry only a one or two kinds of finfish–a fact attested to by the frequent appearance of “Fresh Gulf Fish Of The Day” on local menus. The main reason for this is that fish is not easily scored in the marketplace. To have a lot of seafood variety, the restaurant has to put forth a major effort to find it. In the best restaurants, a full-time person performs that job.
One of the most interesting aspects of seafood is that the number of different species of fish and shellfish is far greater than those of meats, even when you add poultry to the array. Because of this wide range–and also because there’s a lot of mediocre fish at temptingly low prices out there–the restaurant fish buyer needs to know what he’s doing.
These restaurants all have a track record of presenting more different kinds of excellent seafood than most restaurants do. You will note that most of these are among the best restaurants in town. That is no coincidence.
Left out of this consideration is the entire community of Japanese restaurants. Most sushi bars have more different fish than even the top twelve above. But the style is so different, and so much sushi fish comes in frozen from large national distributors, that we will break out the category into a list of its own, coming soon to a NOMenu page near you.
1. GW Fins. French Quarter: 808 Bienville. 504-581-3467. GWFins became an important restaurant day it opened, by exercising a basic idea. They change the menu daily, bringing in at least dozen finfish. Most are local, but many are quite exotic. Plus all the shellfish. They’re good cooks. It adds up to the best seafood restaurant in New Orleans–a major crown.
2. Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. From the moment that redfish and speckled trout were largely legislated off our menus, Commander’s began aggressively searching for good local alternatives. They have more different fish in the house on a given day than they let on; be sure and ask about that.
3. Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021. Galatoire’s is at the top of the seafood purveyors list, and the sheer quantity of seafood it serves ensures a wide variety of finfish. If you can’t get a good pompano here, it won’t be anywhere else. On a good day, they might have more than a half-dozen finfish.
4. Andrea’s. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Despite the inconsistencies that have dogged this restaurant in recent years, one aspect remains solid. Chef Andrea buys many finfish daily, and fillets it all on the premises. He also has an unusually large array of crustaceans and mollusks–notably fresh clams, a real rarity in these parts.
5. Rene Bistrot. Warehouse District & Center City: 700 Tchoupitoulas. 504-613-2350. When Rene Bajeux took over the former La Cote Brasserie a year ago, it already had an unusually good cold seafood offering and a daily whole fish. He has expanded upon this, adding among other things his signature Mediterranean whole sardines.
6. Pêche Seafood Grill. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 Magazine St. 504-522-1744. It’s much too soon for a comprehensive review; the place opened only in May 2013. But the very name of the restaurant (pêche ÷ French = fishing), the reputations of the three chef-owners, and a scan of the menu tells us that this is a place putting more than the average effort into acquiring a daily boatload. There’s a whole fish available every day, and a lot of variety in the raw bar.
7. Restaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. 504-299-9777. Chef John Besh works with many exotic fish. But what I like most here is the frequency with which you find oddball local fish–sheepshead, to name a frequent offering.
8. Emeril’s. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 Tchoupitoulas. 504-528-9393. Emeril’s standards were honed in the Portuguese fishing communities in the Northeast, where he grew up> He learned a further lesson about buying fish during his years with the legendary Miss Jill, the longtime food buyer at Commander’s Palace. Emeril’s always has one or two species you’ve never had before, in addition to the familiar stuff.
9. RioMar. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 S Peters. 504-525-3474. With a Spanish flavor, RioMar brings in a terrific array of fish and shellfish from all over. It’s the only place in town with razor clams regularly.
10. Brigtsen’s. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. Brigtsen’s is too small to offer a lot of different fish on any given day. But if you visit often, you’ll find many species that will be as wonderful as they are new to you. Frank loves to go fishing, and he knows his fish.
11. Grand Isle. Warehouse District & Center City: 575 Convention Center Blvd. 504-520-8530. The concept here is to suggest (in a spiffy, clean way) the fishing-camp cafes that once existed in shoreline Louisiana. It took awhile, but they have done this convincingly, with a strong selection of local seafood, often including fish you almost never see in restaurants.
12. K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. French Quarter: 416 Chartres. 504-524-7394. Chef Paul’s landmark restaurant is the first place we ran into tripletail and many other offbeat local seafoods. The menu changes daily, and the fish keeps coming in.